September 16, 2007
Julian Huxley And The Idolatry Of EvolutionBy Gary Wolf
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has come under increasing attack in recent decades within the scientific community, primarily as the result of a dramatic expansion of knowledge in the field of biology. I do not wish to enter that debate. What I would like to discuss, however, is the idolatry of evolution, or the transformation of a scientific theory into a quasi-religious cult. This phenomenon has contributed to the erosion of intellectual life in the West during the 20th century.
In the thinking of many Darwinists, evolution has a quasi-mystical quality. We have all seen the evolutionary charts showing the development of creepy-crawly things into mammals; knuckle-dragging apes into modern humans. Man stands at the apex of the evolutionary pyramid. Must it not have some transcendental aspect? This groping for spirituality and meaning is manifest in the following passage, written in 1993, from a prominent Darwinist writer, Roger Lewin:
Its ultimate goal? The goal of whom, of what?
At the root of the problem is the interpretation of Darwin's ideas as a law, and not as a theory or trend. As Karl Popper points out,
When a theory is taken for a law, we are well on the way to idolatry. And this idolatry of evolution has had a profound impact on modern Western thought, helping to institute a permanent anti-libertarian and anti-individual trend. Typical is the British zoologist C. H. Waddington. In the thick of the Second World War, he argued that evolution and society are virtually one and the same:
Perhaps no one represents the idolatry of evolution better than Sir Julian Huxley. Grandson of Darwin's colleague Thomas Huxley, raised and educated in English upper-class society in the late Victorian era, biologist at Oxford, midwife of the "modern synthesis" of classical Darwinism and modern genetics, first director-general of UNESCO-he was well situated to draw together all the required elements of the new ideology.
When one reads Huxley, one has the distinct impression of being in the presence of an extraordinary intellect. His analyses are incisive, his language clear and concise. And it is evident that he truly believes in his cause, and is striving for the betterment of humanity. Nevertheless, his central idea of "transhumanism" is the result of blinders fashioned from the cloth of Hegel, not readjusted one millimeter following the totalitarian extravaganzas of the twentieth century that Huxley himself witnessed.
He denies the existence of God, explaining the history of religion as man's attempt, born of ignorance, to explain the mysteries of our existence. (It should be remarked that he credits Christianity with releasing "vast human forces" that have shaped the West.[iv]) But then he goes much further, replacing God with evolution. After describing the Copernican watershed, he says that:
Here, it may be observed, Huxley falls head-first into the trap described by Popper, confusing evolution as theory (or trend) with evolution as scientific law.
In a move reminiscent of Hegel's historical world-spirit, Huxley transforms evolution into nothing less than a god. He starts by investing it with purpose. Although he admits that purpose in evolution is only apparent, the "inevitable" effects of natural selection "simulate purpose by imposing an essentially directional character on biological evolution. The evolutionary process is thus not teleological, directed by some consciously purposeful logic, but teleonomic, automatically moving in the direction of adaptation and improvement."[vi]
This purpose is inherent in the universe, through the vehicle of evolution: "As a result of a thousand million years of evolution, the universe is becoming conscious of itself, able to understand something of its past history and its possible future."[vii] Man, in turn, will carry forward the idea: "Man is the product of nearly three billion years of evolution, in whose person the evolutionary process has at last become conscious of itself and its possibilities."[viii]
With evolution as a conscious being ruling the universe, the stage is set for the process of planning that we must undertake to consummate the current phase, which Huxley calls psychosocial (as opposed to the earlier biological) evolution. This phase is quite rapid; "all the processes of psychosocial evolution not only operate at a faster tempo than those of biological evolution, but exhibit acceleration, very markedly so in recent centuries."[ix] Science itself may be obsolete for this great revolution; the "scientific idea-system" may very well "soon be succeeded by a humanist system."[x]
Man has been appointed "managing director" of the "business of evolution." He is stuck with it; "he can't refuse the job...it is his inescapable destiny."[xi] We must begin work to "bring about the latent capabilities of the ordinary man and woman."[xii] This will be accomplished, among other means, by psychedelic drugs and "eugenic improvement, which will become an increasingly important goal of evolving man."[xiii]
The road will be bumpy. The remaining obstacles include "undue concentration on military technology and expenditure, over-exploitation of renewable resources, the atomic threat...and above all, the excessive increase of human population."[xiv] Huxley admits that the transformation of man "will begin by being unpleasant." This unpleasantness may be due to his plan for "destroying the ideas and institutions that stand in the way of our realizing our possibilities (or even deny that the possibilities are there to be realized)."[xv]
Once the entire pre-transhuman structure is swept away, the path will be clear for the creation of a "single world cultural and sociogenetic system."[xvi] Thus we arrive as the final resting place of history, when man has recognized himself as an animal species, embracing the collective and rejecting the individual. It would seem, at this point, that Huxley's ideas provided raw material for the novel Brave New World, written by his brother, Aldous.
The human intellect, as we know it, is not condemned-it simply loses its purpose. The great dreamer of "vast human forces" has produced a plan that would guarantee the final atrophy of those forces.
Gary Wolf is the author of futuristic novels that portray worlds in which multiculturalism and political correctness have run amok. He blogs at awolcivilization.com.
[i] Roger Lewin (1993) The Origin of Modern Humans, Scientific American Library, New York, pp. ix-x.
[ii] Karl Popper (1957) The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, second ed., pp. 115-116. Emphasis in original.
[iii] C. H. Waddington (1942) Science and Ethics, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., London, pp. 17-18. Emphasis in original.
[iv] Julian Huxley (1964) "The New Divinity" in Essays of a Humanist, Chatto & Windus, London, p. 225.
[vi] Julian Huxley (1942) Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, 1964 edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York. Quote taken from the "New Introduction by the Author" (no page numbers). Emphasis in original.
[vii] Julian Huxley (1957) "Transhumanism" in New Bottles for New Wine, Chatto & Windus, London, p. 13. The quoted text is the first sentence of the essay.